New Study Reveals Scary Consequence of Catcalling

shutterstock_277554164As if catcalling wasn’t bad enough, a new study has found that women who feel objectified may be more likely to become victims of sexual assault.

The study, published recently in Psychology of Violence, found that many women who feel objectified begin to obsessively monitor their looks from an outsider’s perspective. That can lead to decreased sexual assertiveness and a higher risk of becoming victimized.

The authors surveyed 297 women college students using an online test. First, the students were asked to share how often they’d been objectified (e.g. noticing someone staring at your breasts during a conversation) or been the victim of unwanted sexual conduct, such as nonconsensual touching or fondling. The researchers then asked how often the women “self-objectified,” or monitored their own appearance, asking the participants to respond to statements such as “During the day, I think about how I look many times.” Next, the women were asked to reflect on their own sexual assertiveness by agreeing or disagreeing with statements including, “I refuse to have sex if I do not want to, even if my partner insists.” Finally, the researchers probed the students’ experiences of sexual victimization with a sexual experiences survey.

More than one-third of participants reported an experience of sexual victimization, and the bulk of those said they’d been objectified. The study’s authors write,

Our results suggest that women who are recurrently objectified may increasingly define their bodies for the purpose of serving others. This internalization of another’s perspective, in turn, may undermine one’s ability to respond assertively during unwanted sexual encounters. Because the ability to assert one’s sexual desires can serve as a protective factor against assault, passivity in unwanted sexual situations may increase risk for sexual victimization.

The study suggests that a psychological change may occur when a woman is catcalled or otherwise harassed; perhaps her ideas of consent or bodily autonomy shift or degrade. That’s similar to the changes that occur in survivors of childhood sexual assault; they’re often later revictimized.

One of the study’s authors, Molly Franz, tells the Ms. Blog, “Studies on sexual revictimization suggest that women who experience sexual assault are more likely to be revictimized due to psychological changes that occur as a function of the original assault. Our study also points to a potential psychological change that can occur as a function of repeated objectification experiences.”

The study’s authors are clear about one thing: It’s not up women to prevent sexual assaults against them. Says Franz, “In many situations, assertiveness (like saying ‘no’ or physical resistance) will not prevent assault. The only way sexual assault can truly be prevented is if perpetrators cease unwanted sexual advances.”

Photo via Shutterstock


Stephanie hails from Toronto, Canada. She is a Ms. writer, a master of journalism candidate and a hip hop dancer/instructor/choreographer. She got her start in feminist journalism at the age of 16 when she was a member of the first editorial collective at Shameless magazine—and she has never looked back.